Category Archives: music

Ramblings of a Reticent Blogger…

[NOTE: If you’re dreaming about the weekend and dawdling at work and have some time to linger over this lengthy post, wonderful… start at the beginning. If, however, you’re pressed for time, just skip to the end. That’s the important part. Happy weekend everyone!]

So you may have noticed I’ve been a bit remiss lately. I feel bad.

It’s a mix of issues really. Part of it is the thought that I just don’t have that much to say… much of interest anyway. You see, it’s hard to get out as much as I used to… now married and ensconced in the relative suburbia of Oakland’s lower hills. Instead of hopping on my bike to sail in any given direction from the flats of West Oakland, an explorer bent on exploring, I now find the pedal from the hills slightly daunting… the discoveries farther from reach. And after all… wouldn’t it just be easier to water the garden or stream another episode of True Detective?

So I guess I’ve gotten a bit lazy. But then I think, NO. Don’t do that to yourself. You have been busy. You were traveling for your friend’s wedding. And then you had your wisdom teeth out… and recovery took awhile (you’re not 20 anymore!) Plus you’ve done all that volunteer work. And you prioritized spring cleaning your office and garage… donating your storage carts to the sculptor, your fabric bolts and wedding leftovers to the creative reuse center, your old cameras and film to the photojournalism student, you’re your computer cast-offs to the local school vice-principal… all in support of the ARTS, remember? And let’s not forget that your beautiful gleaming Mac Pro tower, despite its ever-youthful exterior, was slowly crumbling within to the point where it shat itself, gasped its last breath, and then… DIED. Cleaning up that mess was a serious time (and money) suck. So take it easy on yourself, k?

The other thing, and yes I realize this is completely contradictory, is that I feel like I have stuff to say all the time, but am simply unable to capitalize on the temporality of it all. I spent a good chunk of time redesigning the blog with a new theme to be mobile-friendly in anticipation of having much to say… did you notice? All that work, but then scant few posts to follow. The problem seems to be that despite having an abundance of ideas, I just can’t to get them out fast enough to be timely (I’m a terrible tweeter). And once the moment’s passed… well, then what I had to say seems… irrelevant. It’s a conundrum.

Best Music, Best Music OaklandFor example I wanted to tell you about Best Music going out of business. A downtown Oakland institution for over 80 years (80 years!!!) I took photos and everything. It’s gone now.

I wanted to share my latest dining delights on a perfect little stretch of Grand… the Grand Tavern (the ambience, the service, the food!), and The Star (hello deep dish meatball and ricotta pizza, you are to die for!), and Penrose (Charlie’s done it again). But my photos were lame and the moments passed, so I remained silent.

makai ukuleleI wanted to post about the Ukulele get-togethers at Actual Cafe (I got a ukulele for my birthday last month) but now I don’t even know if these gatherings are happening anymore. If you know, please let me know… I’m looking to expand my current repertoire of three songs.

I wanted to write about the new beer garden (Lost and Found) in Uptown, but now it’s not new anymore. I made plans to meet friends there, but there was a miscommunication and we ended up meeting at the old beer garden in Uptown. So much for modern technology… we humans can still fuck it up.

pollinate farm gardenI wanted to tell you about my visit to Pollinate earlier this summer in preparation for planting my garden… the orchard, the chickens, the farming & gardening supplies, the beekeeping stuff, and the incredible library of books, plus their slew of cool DIY classes (I’m waiting for pickles!) I interviewed the owner, I took photos. Alas, where is the post?

I could go on and on… but I’m figuring I’ve probably lost most of you by now, so I’ll just wrap up by talking about one more meaningful posts I meant to write and sadly let slide.

It’s about the art space Studio Grand, which I wrote about once before. The first time I stepped into the space I knew it was something special… the music was moving, the acoustics were perfect, the curated paintings that hung on the walls beautifully complimented the performance, and the vibe was, well… LOVE. I guess that’s the best way I can describe it.

The space was inspired and founded by Holly Schneider with the mission of supporting community cultural engagement through programming that reflects and serves the diversity that is Oakland. I began taking classes there and, one day upon arriving for class, learned that Holly had suddenly and most unexpectedly passed away at the far-too-young age of 42 from a very rare form of cancer. It was a shock. And a reminder of how precious each day is… not to be wasted on petty things or grumpiness. A solemn reminder for me, someone who often feels grumpy. Holly was an artist, musician, wife, and mother whose passion for art, music, and community can be viscerally felt in the space she has left behind, which I visit often.

The most recent performance I attended was a solo guitar concert by Chuck Johnson this past Tuesday. I’d never heard of Chuck Johnson, but that didn’t matter. I knew the show would be amazing because the community of artists supporting this space is amazing. My sweetie couldn’t attend the show with me and asked me later what it was like… I said it was hard to describe but sort of like early Americana folk guitar picking but with a modern twist… a more delicate and sublime sensibility. Here’s one of the gorgeous tracks he played:

Studio Grand continues on in Holly’s honor, carried forward by the work of countless volunteers and artists. I encourage everyone to check out their eclectic program offerings, and/or attend the closing reception of the current art installation: Susan Matthews’ Rhythm & Spirit.

Friday, August 22, 2014
6:00pm – 8:00pm

This will be a very special reception as it marks the close of the last show that Holly curated. She was drawn to the work of Susan Matthews captured the spirit of the people of Cuba and the rich tradition of Rumba, and knew these pieces would fit beautifully into Studio Grand. They do.
Susan Matthews

Summer Solstice fun in Oakland, and across the world.

Last night we landed in Greece. Yes, Greece! We flew into Athens around midnight, seeing the merest hint of this 8-million person city, just a smattering of city lights surrounded by a sea of blackness. We arrived at our hotel around one o’clock in the morning while locals were flocking to nearby bars to watch the World Cup game between Greece and Japan, but we were ready to collapse after 24 hours of grueling travel and turned in for a scant four hours of sleep. We rose before the sun in order to catch our transport to the ferry, and while driving to the terminal the sun peeked over the low slung hills as we caught our first real glimpse of the city and the gorgeous blue water surrounding it. Now, as I type this, we are soaring across the Aegean Sea on a ferry the size of the Love Boat, on our way to the island of Naxos. You hate me, right?

athens-small

We’re here for the marriage of our dear friends who are tying the knot on this mythical Greek island on the eve of the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. Our attendance is mandatory since Tim is serving as the ceremony officiant, responsible for the hefty task of ritualizing their union, just as his friend did for us nearly a year ago. I can’t think of a more wonderful favor to return. We know it will be a truly magical event and feel incredibly blessed to be invited to participate.

It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that I’ll be missing one of my favorite solstice events: the Garden of Memory concert in the Chapel of the Chimes, one of my favorite places in Oakland. The building is one of the most beautiful and historic in Oakland, originating in the early 1900’s and largely redesigned in 1928 by the amazing Oakland-based architect Julia Morgan, one of the first major female architects. The building features a labyrinth-like maze of Moorish and Gothic-inspired rooms, each adorned with unique and ornate stonework, statues, gardens, fountains and mosaics. Needless to say, these rooms make for some amazing acoustics, which is why the chapel and columbarium serve so well as the home for this magical musical experience.

My hope is that some of you will go in my stead, to experience this unique celebration. The concert takes place from 5-9pm this Saturday, June 21st. Parking will be limited so carpooling or public transportation is suggested. You can get a sneak preview on the Garden of Memory website below which includes program and schedule information for this year as well as archives of past years dating back to the first concert in 1996, nearly two decades ago. I also wrote a post about my last visit in 2010 (despite my love for this event, without fail I seem to be out of town on the solstice).

Chapel of the Chimes
4499 Piedmont Avenue
www.gardenofmemory.com
Saturday, June 21st  5-9pm

So I’ll be away from Oakland for a little over a week, but do please stay tuned because I’m planning to get some fun posts up while I’m gone, including several mystery location photos to test how well you really know Oaktown…

The Weekend What-To-Do List: this one goes to eleven!

It’s a big weekend people. It’s June. It’s Art Murmur. First Friday. AND Open Studios. And though it’s not technically summer yet, it’s going to feel like it this weekend. It’s gonna be hot!

So whether you’re motivated to take in the arts, bask at the beach, dawdle in the garden, or dance till the sun comes up, there’s something here for you. Check it out my list of ten what-to-dos for this weekend. There are some unique events that only occur once per year so if you miss it, you miss it. Till next year of course. I’ve even mapped something outside Oaktown–shock of all shocks–ready for the island mon? This may be the perfect weekend for it… Hope you enjoy.

10 WHAT-TO-DOS

1. Honeydrop Hometown Throwdown at The New Parish

Friday, June 6th – 7:30 pm
The New Parish – 1743 San Pablo Ave., Oakland
Cost: $20

The California Honeydrops, a self-described “party band” with a humble, down-to-earth dedication to exploring the vast spectrum of American roots music—New Orleans second-line, soul, funk, and Americana—will be throwing down at the New Parish Tonight. No doubt this will be a good time at a great little club.  Cajun blues band Tri Tip Trio and New Orleans-style brass band MJ’s Brass Boppers will open the show, and the food truck Roderick’s BBQ will be selling Southern food.

2. Art Murmur

Friday, June 6th – Most galleries open till 9pm

I don’t need to tell you about Art Murmur. It’s awesome. Just go. Here’s one of my favorite pics from May’s Murmur… I had an incredible time but never got around to posting about it. Sorry.

Art Murmur, Free Masks

3a) Emory Douglas: Artist for the People, Opening Reception And Artist Talk

Emory Douglas, Joyce Gordon Gallery, Artist for the People, Black Panther PartyFriday, June 6th  6-9pm
Joyce Gordon Gallery – 406 14th Street

Emory Douglas is a provocatively political artist. He was the designated Revolutionary Artist and former Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party, and you’re likely familiar with many of his bold graphic posters and flyers, their stark aggressiveness emblematic of the “insurrectionary atmosphere of the [60’s and 70’s], with urban rebellions igniting from city to city and strikes from campus to campus.” Emory will be on hand for this event which should prove to be a fascinating look into the black history of Oakland.

3b) First Friday Shorts Presents: Youth Radio

Friday, June 6th – 6:00pm
The New Parkway – 474 24th St., Oakland
Cost: FREE

Tonight, Youth Radio will present a showcase of its youth videos, creatively portraying the everyday issues that most affect young Oaklanders today – community violence, relationships, education, and more. Also featured will be live performances by the young artists and a discussion about art, media-making and growing up during the height of Oakland’s major cultural and economic shifts. Don’t miss this provocative conversation with the next generation of Oakland artists, newsmakers, and leaders.

3c) Doomed and Misguided: Reggie Warlock and Chris Micro, Opening Reception

Reggie Warlock, Chris Micro, LoakalFriday, June 6th – open till 10pm
Loakal – 560 2nd St. (Jack London Square)

You may not have heard of Reggie Warlock and Chris Micro, but you’ve likely seen their character-based graffiti in murals and tags around Oakland. “A battle cry for underground counterculture’s place in fine art, the exhibition will feature new individual and collaborative paintings and a site-specific installation… Filled with neon colors, humor, and a cartoon-like aesthetic, their work celebrates the worlds of graffiti, hip-hop and skateboarding.”

 3d) 5th Annual Temescal Art Hop

Friday, June 6th  6pm – 9pm
Temescal

This year’s Art Hop features over 20 participating locations including galleries, shops, and cafes around Telegraph Avenue in North Oakland. 48th St (@ Telegraph) and the Temescal Alleys (@ 49th) will feature food vendors and live music.

Pick up an official Art Hop Map from one of the participating locations and collect stamps to enter a raffle drawing to win one of a slew of cool prizes.

4. Urban Farm Tours

Saturday, June 7th  10am – 4pm, tours at each site start every hour
4 sites in Oakland, 4 in Berkeley
Cost: $5 per site ($3 for kids under 12), pay at the door on the day of the event
NOTE: you must contact/register in advance – email iuh@sparkybeegirl.com at least one hour before the event to receive details and locations.

Have you wanted to check out Novella Carpenter’s Ghost Town Farm? Well, now’s your chance!  Her plot, as well as 3 others in Oaktown and 4 more in Berkeley, will be featured on the Institute of Urban Homesteading’s Annual Tour. If you want to learn out how to implement low-water food-production systems or even set up a goat dairy operation in your backyard, this is your chance to hear from the experts. The largest farm on the tour is Full Harvest Urban Farm in East Oakland, spread across 3 lots comprising nearly 27,000 square feet. It’s a super sized full service farm with 25 chickens and 8 ducks for both meat and egg production, 3 kinder dual-purpose goats, dispersed orchard and vegetable plots and a potbelly pig!

Ghost Town Farm is the setting and inspiration for Novella’s well known memoir, Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer. It’s an amazing story of the little farm she’s set up on a empty lot in West Oakland, not far from my old loft (I wrote a post about my first visit here). The other two Oakland farms are Kansas Street Farm in East Oakland, a small food farm with free-range chickens and rain catchment on a rental property, and Lower Bottom Strange Grange in West Oakland, with ducks, bees, aquaponics also on rental property.

5. 48th Annual Sand Castle & Sand Sculpture Contest

Saturday, June 7th  Registration 9-11am, Judging starts at 12noon, Awards Ceremony at 1pm
Robert Crown Memorial State Beach – Westline Drive & Otis Drive, ALAMEDA
Cost: FREE

It’s going to be 80 degrees on Saturday… what a perfect day to hit the beach! But to participate in this event you’ve gotta get up pretty early. For those who plan to tear it up tonight, it may be more realistic to stroll by midday… you’re sure to be astounded by the fantastic creations whipped up in just a few hours. It’s amazing. And oh so temporary.

 

alameda sand castle contest

photo courtesy of Alameda Journal blog

6. East Bay Open Studios (weekend 1)

June 7th & 8th  11am – 6pm
Multiple Cities throughout the East Bay

What can I say? Open Studios is hosted each year by Pro Arts. They’re an institution and this year they’re celebrating their 40th anniversary! How fabulous is that? Four decades of community building, pushing boundaries, and supporting the artists of the greater East Bay. This weekend (and next) is an incredible opportunity to see a seemingly limitless smorgasbord of art in super intimate settings. I think my favorite part of Open Studios is getting to see each artist’s workspace… so different from seeing pieces displaced to a pristine gallery.

This year over 400 artist studios are included during the two weekends of self-guided touring. Media include book art, ceramics, conceptual, digital, drawing, furniture, glass, installation, jewelry, metal, mixed media, mosaic, painting, paper, pastel, photography, print-making, sculpture, textiles, watercolors, and wood! You’ll need the directory and maps to guide yourself. If you don’t already have one, you can download the East Bay Open Studios Directory here.

7. 38th Annual Redwood Heights Block Sale

block-saleSaturday, June 7th  9am – 3pm
Enter sale at Redwood Rd & Jordan Rd. Sale continues on Bennett, Guido, Norton & Retig.

This is the mother of all garage sales. My girlfriend is participating and will be selling off gorgeous mid-century furniture, dining items, barware, and more. With over 20 families participating,  you’ll also find tons of kid and baby stuff, kitchen items, books and lots more all at great prices. Tons of treasures in an easy three or four block area. Sale wraps around Jordan Park (AKA Avenue Terrace Park) so the kids will have something to look forward to after you are done shopping.

8. Shapeshifters Cinema

Sunday, June 8th, doors 7:30, show 8-9pm
Temescal Art Center – 511 48th St (@ Telegraph)
Cost: FREE

“Shapeshifters Cinema is a monthly expanded cinema series featuring experimental filmmakers and video artists presenting moving image work live with accompaniment from musicians and sound artists. Dovetailing off recent programming at the Exploratorium, Shapeshifters is excited to present the work of pioneering light artists Dennis Keefe and (the late) Glenn McKay who are two of the artists responsible for creating the famous psychedelic light shows of the 1960s. Working together under the name of the Headlights Light Show, Keefe and McKay performed at many west coast venues, including the Fillmore, and also toured extensively with the Jefferson Airplane. The highlight of the program will be a live light art performance by Dennis Keefe with collaborators Jim Baldocchi and Lori Varga and musical accompaniment by Chris Musgrave (Lumerians) and Sarah R. Brady.”

Ok everyone, I know what you’re saying to yourself… that only looks like 8, and she promised 10. But I think if you’ll look back… you’ll see I did some pretty tricky stuff with #3. This one actually goes to eleven. Have a great weekend y’all!

 

Wondering What to Do this Memorial Day Weekend?

Can you believe Memorial Day is already upon us? Wondering what to do with the luxuriously long weekend ahead? Well lucky for you, I’ve compiled some interesting options to choose from… Whether you’re looking for festivals of music, dance, & food, scholarly history lessons, or engaging activities to entertain the wee ones, there’s a little something here for everyone… Enjoy!!

FRIDAY – May 23rd

  • Friday Nights at OMCA (5-9pm)

    The Oakland Museum of California is holding its weekly night market on Friday. Off the Grid’s gourmet food trucks will offer artisanal local cuisine, with local beer and wine served in the Blue Oak beer garden. A Makers & Tasters discussion will bring together great minds in the brewing and gardening communities. Live music, dance lessons, a DJ, and an LGBT history tour of the museum help guests digest all that stout and kraut. Plus access to all galleries including newly opened exhibits SuperAwesome: Art and Giant Robot and Vinyl: The Sound and Culture of Records.
    Admission 1/2 price for adults; free for kids under 18.
    Oakland Museum, Friday Nights at OMCA, Vinyl, Sound and Culture of Records

SATURDAY – May 24th

  • Oakland City Walking Tour: New Era | New Politics (Tour begins at 10am)

    On this free 90-minute downtown walking tour, you’ll discover the places where Oakland’s African American leaders have made their marks. Learn how Lionel Wilson, Delilah Beasley, Robert Maynard, the Dellums family, Josephine Baker, and others changed the Bay Area and California.
    Meet in front of the African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO), 14th Street at Martin Luther King, Jr. Way. Cost is FREE.

  • Celebrating Elephants Day at the Oakland Zoo (10am-3pm)

    To raise awareness about the perilous situation of African elephants, the Oakland Zoo is hosting its 18th annual Celebrating Elephants event. Funds from the tours will be donated to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Visitors can find out how to tell the zoo’s four African elephants apart, learn about poaching and the illegal ivory trade, examine an eleven-pound elephant tooth, and tour the elephant barn, where you can see the animals up-close and watch an elephant “pedicure” (a once-a-year opportunity).
    9777 Golf Links Rd., Oakland. Event is included with regular Zoo admission. Elephant Barn Tours are $10 for adults and $5 for kids under 16.

  • “Eastlake” Free All-Day Lake Merritt Music Festival (12-7pm, cont. at local venues till 2am)

    The First Annual Eastlake Music Festival debuts in the newly completed Lake Merritt Amphitheater and features local music, dance, indie arts and crafts, micro-brews and food trucks. The festival is a not-for-profit festival, fiscally sponsored by the Friends of Oakland Parks, and 100% volunteer planned, organized and run. The main amphitheater stage will feature live bands till 7pm. Then the party moves to various local venues to run into the week hours.
    Full festival map here. Cost is FREE.
    Eastlake Music Festival, Oakland Lake Merritt, Lake Merritt amphitheater, Lake Merritt Music Festival

  • Spanish Harlem Orchestra at Yoshi’s Oakland (two shows – 7:30pm, 9:30pm)

    The two-time Grammy winning Salsa and Latin Jazz band, sets the standard for excellence for authentic, New York style, hard core salsa. Live or recorded, it doesn’t get any better. Their music is characterized by the raw, organic and vintage sound defined by the genre. They are on a mission to keep the musical legacy of salsa dura “hard salsa” alive and expand its audience to those who love great music, not just Latin music.
    Yoshi’s Jazz Club, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. Cost is $34.

SUNDAY – May 25th

  • Meat-Up Sausage Pop-Up in Temescal Alleys (12pm)

    Monthly sausage pop-up hosted by two of the cooks at Pizzaiolo. This month’s sausage is Bratwurst with sauer kraut and beer on tap.
    470-482 49th St., Oakland. $5-$15

  • Spanish Harlem Orchestra at Yoshi’s Oakland (two shows – 7:00pm, 9:00pm)

    The two-time Grammy winning Salsa and Latin Jazz band, sets the standard for excellence for authentic, New York style, hard core salsa. See full description above.
    Yoshi’s Jazz Club, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. Cost is $29.

MONDAY – May 26th – Memorial Day!

  • Memorial Day Commemoration & Tour at Mountain View Cemetery (10am)

    Join Mountain View Cemetery to honor all veterans at the 93rd Annual Memorial Day Commemoration when docent Dennis Evanosky will lead a guided tour of the refurbished Civil War plot and other areas of notables that are buried in the cemetery. The ceremony will be held at the second fountain on the Main Avenue of the cemetery and complimentary refreshments will follow.
    5000 Piedmont Ave, Oakland. Cost is FREE.

  • Oakland Carnival at Mosswood Park (10am-5pm)

    Bring the family for a chilled decompression from San Francisco’s Sunday Carnaval. With a kids’ zone and Carnival cultural performances by Bay Area dance companies and bands.
    Corner of Broadway & Mac Arthur. Opening blessing at 10am, entertainment starts at noon.
    Oakland Carnival, Oakland Carnaval, Sambafunk

  • All Tings Jerk Cook Off Festival & Fundraiser (1pm-5pm)

    Now in it’s fifth year the My Yute Soccer annual Jamaican Jerk Cook off is ramping up for another full day of chilled music and hot jerk. Top-of-the-line chefs including James Syhabout, Chop Bar’s Chris Pastena, Michael Cook from Rumbo al Sur, and guest chef from Atlanta, award-winning jerk chef Jimmie Jackson will be turning out their own jerk-inspired recipes. Festival includes live music and raffle items. All funds raised support My Yute Soccer, providing free soccer camps to educate youth in soccer and promote awareness of socio-cultural differences for the general public.
    Linden Street Brewery, 95 Linden Street, Oakland. Cost $15 general admission plus $5 drink & tasting tickets, or $25 package admission.

 

Cool Events This Weekend…

Thank God the heat’s broken, yes?

While that may be true for most of you, I’m in L.A. and it’s still sweltering here. But as of this morning we’re under the triple-digit mark so things are improving…

I’ve been out of town much of the week and galavanting with my girlfriend so I haven’t had a lot of time to do extensive research, but here are a few very cool things happening this weekend that I’m sure you’ll enjoy!

41st Annual Oakland Greek Festival (FRI/SAT/SUN)

It is that time of year again when the wonderful aromas of Souklavia and Loukoumades waft through the air and the sounds of traditional Greek music and shouts of OPA! resonate in the hills of Oakland. The Oakland Greek Festival 2014 is already in full swing…. If you haven’t ever been, this is a great event to check out!

WHEN: 10am-11pm Friday & Saturday; 11am-9pm Sunday
WHERE: On the beautiful grounds of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Ascension, 4700 Lincoln Avenue, Oakland hills, below Highway 13, (510) 531-3400
COST: Adults $6, Children 12 & under are free. (Free admission on Friday from 10am-2pm and on Sunday from 5pm to closing.)

Aeolian Day – A New Festival Of Music Made By The Wind (SAT)

Aeolian Day is a free community festival exhibiting and celebrating musical instruments that are played by the wind. The festival fosters creative collaborations between artists, students and teachers; and promotes awareness of Middle Harbor Shoreline itself, with its unique history, habitat and design. In addition to the four wind-powered works at the center of Aeolian Day, the festival will feature live music, food trucks, and hands-on learning for families.

WHEN: Saturday, Daylight Hours (I’m assuming this, the site doesn’t say specifically)
WHERE: Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, 2777 Middle Harbor Rd, Oakland, CA 94607
COST: Free!

The Bay Area Guitar Masters Series: Eric Symons (SUN)

The first of three performances by noted classical guitarists in the Bay Area features Eric Symons, who will perform a program of original arrangements of Beethoven, Giuliani, Granados, Villa-Lobos, plus original compositions. I’m super excited about this series, especially since I will be out of town (again!) for the always inspiring and interesting Solstice Music Festival held at the neighboring Chapel of the Chimes (see upcoming events at right).

WHEN: Sunday, 2-4pm
WHERE: Tower Chapel at Mountain View Cemetery, 5000 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611
COST: Free!

Bay Area Master Guitar Series

Freedom Songs at Studio Grand

After doing everything and anything I could to take advantage of last weekend’s gorgeous sunshine, balmy temperatures, and springtime blooms, I could have easily planted myself on the couch to rest my weary bones in front of some mindless TV. But I opted instead to hit this show–solo even, since I could find no other takers on a Sunday night–and I’m so glad I did.

Not just for the show, which was beautiful, inspiring, and quite moving. But also for the introduction to Studio Grand, a space about which I am incredibly excited. It’s the kind of place I’ve fantasized about creating for a long time… a gallery, no… a performance space, no… a community art center. Oh sweet Jesus, it’s all of the above! I can’t wait to learn more and explore some of their super-interesting upcoming offerings.

But on to Sunday’s show…
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Freedom Songs was listed in my Friday post about weekend activities to celebrate Black History Month, and is the one event I attended. It featured four local Bay Area vocalists (Valerie Troutt, Amy Lacour, Tiffany Austin, Kimiko Joy) performing selections from the traditions of gospel, spiritual, folk, and soul.

I arrived just in time for the second set which highlighted mostly contemporary works by Nina Simone, Sam Cooke (by way of Mahalia Jackson), Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, Mos Def, and more. My guess is that the first half focused on more of the early gospels and folk songs, and I’m sorry to have missed this.

Each woman in turn performed a song of her choosing, perhaps giving a little history of the song and why she selected it. The set transitioned from songs of struggle during the civil rights movement (Too Slow, A Change Is Gonna Come, Someday We’ll All Be Free, and Visions), to songs of celebration (Golden, Tree of Life, and Shine A Light).

It’s hard to describe how touching these performances were. My words can’t convey the power of these women’s voices and the heart and love that they projected into the crowd. The song that really got me was right in the middle of the show, rounding out the songs of struggle with one emphasizing disappointment, yet still so full of hope.

It’s one of the less well-known songs from Stevie Wonder’s wildly popular and seminal album Innervisions, which featured such hits as Too High, Living for the City, and Higher Ground, and garnered several Grammy’s including Album of the Year.  It is considered by many to be one of his greatest and most important works, addressing such issues as “drugs, spirituality, political ethics, the unnecessary perils of urban life, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream.”(wikipedia).

Visions is the mournful embodiment of this last issue, and Amy Lacour’s rendition brought tears to my eyes. Here are the lyrics for those who aren’t familiar with it…

People hand in hand
Have I lived to see the milk and honey land?
Where hate’s a dream and love forever stands
Or is this a vision in my mind?

The law was never passed
But somehow all men feel they’re truly free at last
Have we really gone this far through space and time
Or is this a vision in my mind?

I’m not one who makes believe
I know that leaves are green
They only change to brown when autumn comes around

I know just what I say
Today’s not yesterday
And all things have an ending

But what I’d like to know
Is could a place like this exist so beautiful
Or do we have to find our wings and fly away
To the vision in our mind?

The current gallery exhibit Abstracts in the Way of Being by Todd Thomas Brown, though difficult to fully appreciate at night, seemed the perfect backdrop for this show, with bold abstracts in striking reds and blacks. The vocalists were all accompanied by the incredibly soulful stylings of pianist Joe Warner. And the show culminated with a group performance including all four of these beautiful women, encouraging the crowd to sing along.

I was singing all the way to my car… in my head as I went to bed that night… and on into this week. I want to thank Studio Grand for hosting an excellent show, and to all of these courageous artists for sharing their hearts with us!

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Get Your Black History Month On…

black history month quotes

There’s just one week left. So if you haven’t yet done something to honor our black brothers and sisters of Oakland, here are a slew of diverse and interesting options to choose from this weekend…

Friday – 2/21

  • African American Heritage through Storytelling (2pm)

    Kirk Waller is a storyteller who utilizes his musicality, physicality, emotion and spoken word to convey a wide array of African and African American Folktales, Stories and Legends. Fun for the whole family.
    Oakland Public Library, Main Branch 125 14th St., Oakland 510-238-3134

  • Blackball Universe: Black Minus Afrika (7pm – 12am)

    Black Minus Afrika is an exhibition that takes a look at modern perceptions of Africa as well as contemporary notions of ‘Blackness’. The exhibit features art by Oakland-based artist Gathinji Mbire, among many others, and runs through the end of March. This reception is FREE and open to the public and will feature refreshments and music by Fantastic Negrito.
    Blackball Universe – 230 Madison St., Oakland 94607

Saturday – 2/22

  • Black History Month Walking Tour (10am – 12pm)

    FREE downtown walking tours highlighting African-American leaders who helped shape present-day Oakland. Learn how Lionel Wilson, Delilah Beasley and Marcus Foster changed the city and the Bay Area. Simply meet at AAMLO shortly before 10am to participate.
    African American Museum and Library at Oakland – 659 14th St.
    510-238-3234  www.oaklandnet.com

  • The 18th Annual Art of Living Black Exhibition (12pm – 6pm)

    Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Self-Guided Art Tour features emerging, mid-career and established artists of African American descent from the San Francisco Bay Area. FREE and open to the public.
    American Steel Studios: 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland 94607

  • Black Vines: A Toast to Black Wineries & Diverse Art (1pm – 4pm)

    The third annual celebration of art, culture, and wine, bringing together African American artists and vintners. Tickets presale $30; door $40 purchase tickets here
    Betti Ono Gallery – 1427 Broadway, Oakland 94612

    African American Heritage through Storytelling (2pm)

    Kirk Waller is a storyteller who utilizes his musicality, physicality, emotion and spoken word to convey a wide array of African and African American Folktales, Stories and Legends. Fun for the whole family.
    Oakland Public Library, Montclair Branch 1687 Mountain Blvd., Oakland 510-482-7810

  • Blackball Universe: Black Minus Afrika (7pm – 12am)

    Black Minus Afrika is an exhibition that takes a look at modern perceptions of Africa as well as contemporary notions of ‘Blackness’. The exhibit features art by Oakland-based artist Gathinji Mbire, among many others, and runs through the end of March. This reception is FREE and open to the public and will feature refreshments and music by Fantastic Negrito.
    Blackball Universe – 230 Madison St., Oakland 94607

Sunday 2/23

  • The 18th Annual Art of Living Black Exhibition (12pm – 6pm)

    Bay Area Black Artists Exhibition and Self-Guided Art Tour features emerging, mid-career and established artists of African American descent from the San Francisco Bay Area. FREE and open to the public.
    American Steel Studios: 1960 Mandela Parkway, Oakland 94607

  • Freedom Songs: Valerie Troutt, Amy Lacour, Tiffany Austin & Kimiko Joy (6:30pm – 8:30pm)

    Four Bay Area vocalists in the round featuring selections from the traditions of gospel, spiritual, folk, and soul. 6pm doors, $10-15 suggested donation
    2013 Studio Grand – 3234 Grand Avenue, Oakland 94610